Preview: 2015 Sun Belt softball tournament

It is time to crown a champion as the attention of Sun Belt softball shifts to San Marcos, Texas.

Georgia State softball has its eye on bringing home a conference championship. The Panthers ended the season at 35-20 and 14-10 against conference opponents.

The Panthers present one of the most potent offenses in the conference with six players having batting averages of .300 or higher. Included is freshman Ivie Drake and her .462 average and 21 home runs, setting a new single-season Georgia State record.

Sophomore Megan Litumbe ended the season with a .365 average, 19 home runs and 54 runs batted in. As a team, the Panthers batted .341–only behind Louisiana-Lafayette, who won the regular season conference title.

Pitching-wise, Taylor Thorpe had a 17-5 record and a 4.92 earned run average. Both she and Katie Worley were the two pitchers on the Panthers’ roster with at least 10 wins in 2015.

Fifth-seeded Georgia State will face Georgia Southern in the tournament’s first game on today at 11 a.m. The Panthers are coming off a three-game sweep of the Eagles as they finished the regular season.

Here is a look at the Panthers’ competition beginning today in San Marcos.

Louisiana-Lafayette (37-8, 20-3 Sun Belt)
(Panthers: 0-3 vs. ULL)

The UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns won the Sun Belt last season along with advancing through the NCAA tournament and to the Women’s College World Series. The team is coming into the tournament as the only Sun Belt team in the top-10 in the NCAA’s rating percentage index (RPI).

One reason for the Cajuns’ success is their .355 batting average as a team. Helping greatly was junior catcher Lexi Elkins’ .424 average, 27 home runs and 69 runs batted in.

South Alabama (35-10, 16-4 Sun Belt)
(Panthers: 0-3 vs. South Alabama)

The Jaguars may be fourth in the Sun Belt in hitting with a .308 batting average, but South Alabama’s success has been especially felt from the pitcher’s circle in 2015. The second-seeded Jaguars will head into San Marcos with a 2.65 ERA–second in the conference.

South Alabama has three pitchers in the top -10 in the Sun Belt in ERA, including freshman Kalen McGill, who has given the Jaguars over 115 innings of work, where she has managed a 16-2 record, a 1.82 ERA, 70 strikeouts and only 16 walks.

Texas State (32-20, 14-6 Sun Belt)
(Panthers: 2-1 vs. Texas State)

In mid-March, the Bobcats were responsible for ending Georgia State’s 15-game winning streak. With this year’s tournament emanating from San Marcos, host school Texas State is certain to enjoy a robust home-field advantage.

The Bobcats are one of three teams entering the tournament with a three-game winning streak. They are also one of the three least error-prone teams in the Sun Belt as they have only committed 32 errors (tied for second place) this season. Freshman pitcher Randi Rupp has thrown over 240 innings this year while earning a 24-13 record and a 2.72 ERA.

Troy Trojans (32-22, 14-9 Sun Belt)
(Panthers: 3-0 vs. Troy)

In 2014, Troy was a Sun Belt tournament participant, but eliminated in the first round by Louisiana-Monroe, finishing with a record of 22-30-2 and a 5-13 conference mark. Things have been very different with the Trojans this year.

Troy’s strength is in pitching as the Trojans pitchers have combined for a 3.43 ERA this season. At the top of their pitching list is senior Jaycee Affeldt who is 17-10 with a 2.51 ERA and 145 strikeouts. Junior Ashley Rainey also ended the regular season at 10-4 as a pitcher.

Louisiana-Monroe (28-20, 10-12 Sun Belt)
(Panthers: 2-1 vs. ULM)

The Warhawks – a team very familiar to Georgia State softball fans, ended the Panthers’ season last year via a first-round, 2-1 result in nine innings. This season, Louisiana-Monroe begins the tournament, once again, as a six-seed.

UL-Monroe is not the conference’s biggest run-producer, but it is a major threat to score. Sophomore outfielder Rochelle Roberts, redshirt senior infielder Miyuki Navarrette, and sophomore outfielder Sidney Coy have a combined 86 stolen bases in 98 attempts.

UT-Arlington (27-27, 8-15 Sun Belt)
(Panthers: 2-1 vs. UTA)

The Mavericks enter this year’s tournament on a cold streak. UT-Arlington lost six consecutive games entering the tournament, including being swept by in-state rival Texas State at home.

Even without the home run output of UL-Lafayette or Georgia State, the Mavericks as a team are batting .318–third in the Sun Belt. Senior infielder Nina Villanueva is one of only four Sun Belt players with a batting average of at least .400.

Georgia Southern (12-38, 4-20 Sun Belt)
(Panthers: 3-0 vs. Georgia Southern)

Out of the Sun Belt’s two softball newcomers, the Eagles earned a berth to the conference tournament. Georgia Southern is a heavy underdog given their record and having lost 12 straight on their way to San Marcos.

The Eagles have only one player who has batted over .300 for the regular season. The player in question is sophomore outfielder Taylor Rogers, who finished the season with a batting average of .343.